Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Twenty-Third Report


ANNEX 5

CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL - GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Letter from Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Minister of State at the Home Office, to the Chairman

I am writing to explain the background to government amendments to clause 9 of the Bill which are being laid today. The text of the amendments is attached. As you know, clause 9 deals with changes to the procedures for establishing and altering codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

The basic intention of clause 9 is to speed up and simplify processes in relation to the codes so that it is easier to keep them up to date in the face of an ever-increasing rate of legislative and procedural change. However, concerns have been expressed during debate in the Commons, as well as by the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) and elsewhere, that the proposed changes are too far reaching and do not allow for sufficient consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.

In the light of these objections we are now proposing to amend clause 9 so that any new codes will remain subject to the full affirmative resolution procedure in parliament as at present. In relation to proposed changes to the existing codes, our amendments would effectively allow the Home Secretary discretion to choose either the affirmative resolution procedure on a draft order or straightforward laying of a made order depending on his judgement about the level of scrutiny necessary in each particular case. However, in order to avoid allowing an inappropriate level of discretion to the Home Secretary, we would undertake in parliament during the passage of the Bill that he would agree to consult the HASC in every case and be bound by their views on which procedure to adopt in relation to each proposed change. This approach was trailed in debate at Commons Report stage and did not meet with any opposition. Your Committee's report published on 11 June indicated you would consider the relevant amendments in this area when they became available.

On another aspect of the clause, an opposition amendment at Commons Report suggested that consultation requirements on new or revised codes should be extended to include The Institute of Legal Executives as well as the Law Society and The Bar Council. The rationale is that many of those advising detained persons at police stations and thus having daily dealings with the codes will in fact be members of the Institute. We think this is a valid point and it is allowed for in the amendments which are attached.

24 June 2003

CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL - GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT FOR COMMITTEE STAGE

Letter from Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Minister of State at the Home Office, to the Chairman

I am writing to explain the background to certain Government amendments to Part 5 of the Bill on "Disclosure", which were tabled last week for consideration at Lords Committee stage.

Clause 33 of the Bill requires the defence to serve, before the trial, a notice giving details of the witnesses it intends to call to give evidence at the trial. The Home Affairs Committee has, however, expressed concern that the requirement might allow the police to bring undue pressure to bear upon defence witnesses, and the Home Secretary undertook at Commons Second Reading that the Government would bring forward a code of practice would to deal with the matter.

The amendments now attached discharge that commitment. They take the form of a new clause. It establishes a code of practice for police interviews with defence witnesses and will apply where the details of a defence witness are provided as an alibi or in accordance with the new obligation set out in clause 33 of the Bill. This will provide a substantial safeguard. I am also attaching an indicative draft code, which may be of interest. This will of course be subject to consultation, as set out in the new clause.

The initial code will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure, and in the interests of consistency, any revisions will follow the procedure which we are proposing in respect of the PACE codes under Part 1 of the Bill, that is to say, there will be a mechanism to ensure that revisions of the codes will also be subject to the affirmative procedure in appropriate cases.

3 July 2003


 
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